Classic History Books


William Wood - The Winning of Canada: A Chronicle of Wolfe

starved and badly armed. Both Vaudreuil and Bigot could and did interfere disastrously with the five
different forces that should have been made into one army under Montcalm alone - the French regulars,

the Canadian regulars, the Canadian militia, the French sailors ashore, and the Indians. Montcalm had

one great advantage over Wolfe. He was not expected to fight or manoeuvre in the open field. His duty

was not to drive Wolfe away, or even to keep Amherst out of Canada. All he had to do was to hold

Quebec throughout the summer. The autumn would force the British fleet to leave for ice-free waters.

Then, if Quebec could only be held, a change in the fortunes of war, or a treaty of peace, might still keep

Canada in French hands. Wolfe had either to tempt Montcalm out of Quebec or get into it himself; and he

soon realized that he would have to do this with the help of Saunders alone; for Amherst in the south was

crawling forward towards Montreal so slowly that no aid from him could be expected.

Montcalm's position certainly looked secure for the summer. His left flank was guarded by the
Montmorency, a swift river that could be forded only by a few men at a time in a narrow place, some

miles up, where the dense bush would give every chance to his Indians and Canadians. His centre was

guarded by entrenchments running from the Montmorency to the St Charles, six miles of ground, rising

higher and higher towards Montmorency, all of it defended by the best troops and the bulk of the army,

and none of it having an inch of cover for an enemy in front. The mouth of the St Charles was blocked by

booms and batteries. Quebec is a natural fortress; and above Quebec the high, steep cliffs stretched for

miles and miles. These cliffs could be climbed by a few men in several places; but nowhere by a whole

army, if any defenders were there in force; and the British fleet could not land an army without being

seen soon enough to draw plenty of defenders to the same spot. Forty miles above Quebec the St

Lawrence channel narrows to only a quarter of a mile, and the down current becomes very swift indeed.

Above this channel was the small French fleet, which could stop a much larger one trying to get up, or

could even block most of the fairway by sinking some of its own ships. Besides all these defences of man

and nature the French had floating batteries along the north shore. They also held the Levis Heights on

the south shore, opposite Quebec, so that ships crowded with helpless infantry could not, without terrible

risk, run through the intervening narrows, barely a thousand yards wide.

A gale blowing down-stream was the first trouble for the British fleet. Many of the transports broke loose
and a good deal of damage was done to small vessels and boats. Next night a greater danger threatened,

when the ebb-tide, running five miles an hour, brought down seven French fireships, which suddenly

burst into flame as they rounded the Point of Levy. There was a display of devil's fireworks such as few

men have ever seen or could imagine. Sizzling, crackling, and roaring, the blinding flames leaped into

the jet-black sky, lighting up the camps of both armies, where thousands of soldiers watched these

engines of death sweep down on the fleet. Each of the seven ships was full of mines, blowing up and

hurling shot and shell in all directions. The crowded mass of British vessels seemed doomed to

destruction. But the first spurt of fire had hardly been noticed before the men in the guard boats began to

row to the rescue. Swinging the grappling-hooks round at arm's length, as if they were heaving the lead,

the bluejackets made the fireships fast, the officers shouted, 'Give way!' and presently the whole infernal

flotilla was safely stranded. But it was a close thing and very hot work, as one of the happy-go-lucky

Jack tars said with more force than grace, when he called out to the boat beside him: 'Hullo, mate! Did

you ever take hell in tow before?'

Vaudreuil now made Montcalm, who was under his orders, withdraw the men from the Levis Heights,
and thus abandon the whole of the south shore in front of Quebec. Wolfe, delighted, at once occupied the

same place, with half his army and most of his guns. Then he seized the far side of the Montmorency and

made his main camp there, without, however, removing his hospitals and stores from his camp on the

 

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